After Dad got back from a year in Vietnam and Thailand, we of course were very curious about where he would be assigned. Mom and Dad had moved us to Omaha for the year, to be close to extended family, and it was simple logic to think that Air Force would assign him to SAC (Strategic Air Command) headquarters at Offutt AFB on the south side of Omaha. Sure made sense to me. Only trouble was, Dad was in TAC (Tactical Air Command), which dealt more with fighters and reconnaissance than heavy bombers like SAC controlled. The first place it seemed he was going to go was Nellis AFB near Las Vegas, in TAC. Trouble was, it was to work with the F11 fighter bombers, which, with their swing wing design, spent a lot of time crashing in the Nevada desert. Not a great choice.
So, Dad transferred to SAC, in hopes of the Omaha assignment. Here is where the military leadership gets a bit whacked. After spending most of his entire career in places like South Carolina (warm), Australia (nice and warm), back to South Carolina (still warm), and then Vietnam and Thailand (crazy hot), when he transferred commands, they noticed that early in his training, he had gone through bomber navigator school, and that sealed the deal. They would send him and the entire Cross family… to Grand Forks AFB in the northern tundra. It was sad – even our pastor in Nebraska burst out laughing when Mom told him where we were moving to. He said, “You’ll understand…”
And so we became North Dakotans, of a sort. In 1970, the base was located on the site of an alkali marsh, 15 miles from Grand Forks. The winters were ghastly for Dad, with way below zero temps, tons of snow, and when it blew, it mixed with the loose topsoil and created “snirt.” He had a Volkswagen beetle that struggled to start on those cold days. Not happy.
As well, with seven children, and his rank pretty high, he and Mom were able to pick out the housing on base they wanted, and, true to Dad’s nature, he selected a corner lot, with a massive side lawn – I mean, really huge. Now, Dad was an avid lawn tender, but with such a huge side lawn, there was no way to water it all. Of course, our summers were met with long-term drought, and after a few spring rains to green things up, summer would come and only allow stinking cockleburs to grow. Being old enough, us boys were tasked with mowing the acreage with our trusty 20” mower, which took a couple of hours every week, even though all we were mowing was scrub and dirt. Still, Air Force regulations extended to the way in which everyone kept up their lawn, even if it wasn’t growing. I have to say that after four years, when they moved and I went to college, I didn’t even wave goodbye to the beast of a field.
I really am getting to the point of this column. Hang in there. Fast forward through the past 48 years, and after college and seminary, Cheri and I were appointed to churches with pretty nice parsonages, and good sized lawns. They even threw in their own 20” mower that usually was purchased by the church 15-20 years before. I learned how to mow lawns different from my dad’s experience. He liked to mow every blade as if he were doing the finishing of a putting green. Short – ridiculously short – which meant it burned up quickly in the summer heat, if tons of water weren’t poured on it. I finally figured out that the grass looked just as wonderful if it were taller, but even. It didn’t need as much water, and it stayed pretty green, even when things got dry. I thought I had discovered the secret.
Fast forward again to this summer, when it rained about an inch in May, and then the spigot just got turned off. No rain. I’ve written before about having to hand over to the City of Fargo hundreds of dollars to run our sprinkler system, but by the middle of June, I gave up, and decided it was time for it to just go dormant.
Week after week, with no rain, the lawn, especially in the back where we don’t have a huge maple tree to shade it like we do in the front, the grass simply got browner and browner. I had to keep telling myself, and my beloved wife, that, no, the grass wasn’t dead – it was only sleeping. It sounded a bit like scripture from the Bible telling us that the dead weren’t really dead, and that they would rise when the trumpet blew on the last day. Our grass wasn’t rising. It was toasting, like an English muffin set on dark in the toaster…
All the way through June, and July, and August, the burn continued. I took solace in the lawns in the neighborhood that took the same approach, as all of them were various shades of brown. Of course, there were always those smarty pants, with more money than common sense, that watered their lawns nearly every morning, and had them looking like they were in Ireland during the rainy season. Still, it was the principle of the thing, and next year would be better.
Fast forward to last Thursday. The forecast had actually predicted a slight chance of precipitation, with the chance growing over the beginning of the weekend. Now, I often take the weather report like someone promising to give you a pet pony. It could happen, but more often, it seems we are just left with what the pony left behind… However, Thursday afternoon, there were rumbles in the distance, and by the time I picked Cheri up from work, it was a nice solid rain coming down. You could hear the lawn and all the bushes around the house sucking in the moisture as it fell.
And it fell. And fell. And continued to fall all through Thursday night, and into Friday with a full day of solid rain, and then again yesterday, it seemed every time I looked outside, more raindrops were falling on the driveway. I happily rearranged our menu for the week, and didn’t grill out. I didn’t want to get in the way of the rain.
It seemed last night that things finally had quit, but when we woke up this morning, everything was soaked once again, even though the sun was shining for the first time in three days. Another big storm came through in the night, bringing our total rainfall since Thursday to just over two inches of rain. Now, besides our lawn, the introduction of a couple of inches of rain to the hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland up and down the valley was probably worth well over $100 million in restored crops, just at the right time, with the wheat harvest over, and the beans and beets and potatoes and corn all needing what was offered.
As Cheri and I sat out on the back patio this morning, enjoying a cup of coffee, I looked over to what all summer had been the bleakest, brownest, driest part of the lawn, and to my surprise, after just three days, it was more green than brown! Back from the brink, and with the 95 degrees days gone for the rest of the year, it’ll grow nicely once again in 79 degree sunshine.
It’s amazing what God provides in due time. Yes, there are times when I am terribly impatient, and my faith shrivels up like grass with no deep roots. However, in due time, in the nick of time, or maybe a little bit afterwards, it rains again. The world is refreshed and brightens up a bit, at least here. Now, I know even this morning, New Orleans is battened up and waiting for the hurricane, and other folks in middle Tennessee, and some up north, are trying to cope with the overwhelming amount of water that fell and rushed into their lives. I pray God’s on them, and for strength to build again.
But for us, in our land at the end of August, we breath the cool, moist air, and know that just the right amount at just the right time, has brought a renewed bit of life to our part of the earth. As we wait for winter, and wonder what that will bring…
Word for the day: eldritch. Pronounced ELL-drich. I could have saved this for Halloween, but it’s a fascinating word. It comes from Middle English, more than 500 years ago, when it was believed that the world was occupied by otherworldly beings along side of us. The word was originally elfriche, where you find the smaller word, elf. The word means “fairyland.” When we sense with that sense that goes beyond logic and common sense, and we feel something eerie, or weird or spooky, we are having an eldritch moment. I’ll leave to you the thought of whether it’s real or not…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.